Lundquist learns life’s lessons
He built his own job-seekers network without blueprints
By Ned Lundquist, ABC
Like any worthwhile journey in life, I’ve learned a few important lessons about job hunting, networking, and positioning since I began publishing the Job of the Week newsletter in January 2001.
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I’ve learned quite a bit about and from the other people who are on this journey with me, and I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned about recruiting and recruiters. I’ve learned about despair and hope. I’ve learned about position descriptions, both truthful and otherwise. And I’ve learned about the very positive value of unanticipated consequences. I’ve learned how lonely it can get when you’re out of work. I’ve learned there is some truth to the point of view that espouses that HR people are bred without the humor gene. Finally, I’ve learned there is always an opportunity for success, but success is not always a fair thing.
To begin, let me tell you about my own personal despair that prompted me to start JOTW. I lived with job security for 24 years as an officer in the U.S. Navy. I retired from active duty in 2000 to join the hot job market.
I had been working for a dot.com for less than five months when I suddenly found myself looking for a job again. I was not prepared. I had friends, however, who I admired that always seemed to have knowledge about job opportunities. They would share them with myself and others in their networks. They found out about these opportunities, I reasoned, because they shared what they knew, and people sent them opportunities in return. I resolved to be the center of such a network, and so, as my New Year’s resolution in January 2001, I started sending the Job of the Week to about three dozen colleagues, mostly drawn from the my military career or from involvement in IABC.
The experiment worked. Some very good leads came my way, almost instantaneously. In time I had several good offers, including a VP position I eventually accepted. I continued my newsletter as I started my new job, with almost 150 JOTW subscribers at the time. After 9/11, however, my association eliminated some senior staff. I was the last hired, and so first to go. But by this point in time, my network had grown to more than 500, and while many leads didn’t pan out, some did and I was working again a few months later.
The JOTW network continues to grow today, and is now more than 5,000 strong. It comes out every Monday. And most Tuesdays, and a lot of Wednesdays and/or Thursdays. Each newsletter is about 20 pages long with 10 to 35 jobs posted, as well as a lot of chatter about our existence in and out of work. When I take a rare vacation, I have to tell everyone in advance. I still get e-mails and phone calls from people who want to know if I’m okay or if there’s a problem with their subscription.
I have become a shoulder cry on, someone to vent upon, someone to complain to, and someone to laugh with. Along the way a lot of communicators have found job opportunities that became their jobs because of the JOTW network. Many more find hope because they see so many listings. If nothing else, JOTW gives the frustrated members of our group a friendly forum to spout off and get valuable feedback.
First of all, communicators as a whole are a great group of people, and they tend to be supportive and cooperative with one another as one or more of them look for work. And communicators are some of the funniest people I’ve ever met.
They're also pretty darn good editors (excluding me), and catch little typos. One person was discussing how she used nice “Crane stationary” to respond to HR recruiters, and several people quickly pointed out that it should have been spelled stationery. I printed those, of course, including one which had requested anonymity but which I pasted into the newsletter in haste. So now I had a pissed off person who was asking for advice and just got a heap of editorial criticism, and another person who was pissed I revealed his identity along with his petty comments. And you know what? They're both right. I was wrong.
I've learned that when people ask for advice and assistance, communicators are quick to respond, and helpfully, with a smile. But, as I said, they still can't put down the editorial pencil. When one recent grad asked for some direction about finding a job, I received this in response: “If she is hoping to find a communication job anytime soon, she must pay more attention to sentence construction, grammar and spelling. I hope — and expect — that her cover letters, resumes, and even her face-to-face interviews don't contain the kinds of errors I found in her one-paragraph question to you.”
That critical reply can be tough to swallow sometimes, especially for someone starting out, but it is the right advice – and something one needs to hear -for someone coming into the communication field.
But, what's a few misspelled words among friends?
When one subscriber brought up the subject of “worst songs ever recorded,” I had a month's worth of feedback from people who dredged up some of the most gut-turning tunes ever pressed on vinyl or digitized onto CDs. Many of these could be classified as “Party Killers of the Seventies,” but you’ll find there's crappy music from every decade.
There are the periodic e-mails from subscribers who want me to upgrade the newsletter with links from the contents to the jobs, or sorted by geographic location.
One irate reader ranted about the ad that Topica, the company that manages my free list, placed on the newsletter. “I haven't read the rest of this JOTW. I got stopped at the cigarette add! Appalling that you would post a cigarette ad in your newsletter, with all the known effects of cigarettes. If you decide to smoke, that's your decision. But please don't promote smoking in your newsletter. I'm really disappointed. And also with Topica. <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Dee”
And there are those who say cut the banter and get to the jobs. I love this one because I then get dozens of responses, by about a five-to-one ratio, that say I should leave it the way it is.
Carolyn Z. pleaded with me. “One suggestion (and I'm begging!) – Please relegate all the blah blah (your travelogues, songs reports, and the likes) AFTER the job listings!!!
I don't have the time to shift through all the 'blah blah'! I would love to recommend your newsletters to others but find this area very annoying and will not recommend you unless that is changed.
Larry Bearfield responded. “Hell, you're doing this for free and then Carolyn gripes because you're wasting HER time????”
Many others commented, correctly, that the chit-chat is the best part of JOTW. Communicators, in my view, especially those who are out of work, need and respond to a sense of community and a sharing of ideas, humor and observations.
JOTW has become a great forum for asking questions about the job quest. Do companies want resumes as attachments (Word or PDF), or in the body of the e-mail. One person said she gives a link to her website, encouraging recruiters to go their and read her resume.
Mary Shafer figures “if the receiving party is too darn lazy to even click a hotlink to my website, they would probably be too annoying to work for/with, anyhow. I spent a lot of time and energy on my resume and my website (www.thewordforge.com), and I didn't expect to have to keep sending it out as an attachment or doing the copy-and-paste thing. This is one way to weed out the digitally challenged companies I really don't want to work with anyway.”
Connie Mayse, a recruiter for Comcast, replied: “So I'm lazy? As a recruiter who receives hundreds of responses to each ad I place, I think YOU are lazy for not (a) following the instructions I set out in my posting for applying and (b) adding one more task to my already overwhelmed desk. Why should I consider you over the dozens of talented candidates who have submitted their CV's in a format I've requested? I think YOU are digitally challenged when I request that you submit your CV via our website and you want me to go to yours instead. .I will not make your job application for you – if you want the job, you will have to come to me. Read this newsletter often enough and you will learn that there are many qualified and talented individuals who are looking for work – they are willing to send me their resumes!”
Hey, we need to know this.
I've learned not to take life too seriously. My 5,000 friends help me achieve that state. I published a March 32nd special issue, which was published on April Fools Day. I even had a parody of Larry Light's Job Coach newsletter. I'm on the East Coast, and Larry is in California, but he was on the phone to me within an hour or two of my posting the parody issue. He was upset that I had posted a column in his name that he didn't write.
“Larry, I'll be straight with you. It's April Fools Day, and the entire issue is a spoof.” There was a pause. He apologized for getting in my face. Before lunchtime Larry had sent an all-points-bulletin to everyone on his mailing list inviting them all to see the funny JOTW rendition of his newsletter. Larry learned to take life not to seriously, too. I made a joke about the Ragan folks, but I never heard from them.
I had a contest for people to guess when the total number of active subscribers in the JOTW network reached 5,000, and 43 people submitted entries. Most of the entries were grounded by some important date, like an anniversary, wife’s birthday, or something to do with Jerry Garcia. The winner received a pair of Tabasco boxer shorts, submitted by a faithful reader.
I've learned, yet again, that no good deed goes unpunished. When one individual had sent e-mails to her own “network” of contacts, asking for referrals for an opening she had, someone sent the e-mail to me and I posted it. That's networking. Then I got a response from one of my readers. “I sent a resume and cover letter to a contact on your list and received what sounded like an annoyed response. The person said she is only entertaining candidates personally referred to her; that she doesn't know how she got on your list; and that she's asked to be removed.”
The poster of the original e-mail was upset because she had asked for “referrals,” and by that she apparently meant personal contacts from people she knew, and only personal contacts from people she knew. I interpreted “referrals” with a slightly broader definition. She was indignant with me for not admitting I was wrong, and that she wouldn’t want to hire someone unknown to her or one of her colleagues. But, you know what? It all ended when she did hire someone who actually responded to that posting seen in the JOTW.
Some of the people on the list would comment that the newsletter is skewed towards the DC area. My response to those kinds of comments is that the JOTW is a cooperative service that relies on the contributions of everyone in the network. It stands to reason that I’m here in the DC area, as are many of my fellow communicators. My job search, when I was searching, was focused on this area. But I strive to have a mix. The listings vary from graphic design to internal relations, from broadcasting to print journalism, from PR to IR, as well as a geographic mix, from Korea to Canada, from Kensington to Katmandu. As JOTW is a cooperative, the jobs come from the members themselves. In theory, it should reflect the distribution of the membership. I go out of the way to list openings that are from distant locations.
Some jobs spark a discussion, or in some cases a limerick contest. Here’s Jack Duggan’s entry in the contest to incorporate the name of a trade group.
“Not my best effort,’ said Duggan, “but “The Soap and Detergent Association” won't fit any limerick rhythm.”
There once was great application
For a job with no recreation
You scrub for statistics
With lots of specifics
For a soap scummy association
I like this entry from Katy O'Grady even better.
Though detergent is my inspiration
I won't the call the soap association.
The pay is first-rate,
The location is great,
But there's only one week of vacation!
I was asked to run personals, and so I did. I called the feature “Kommunicators In Search of a Special Someone,” or “KISSS.” I didn’t get very many submissions. One male inquired about posting a KISSS, but was concerned he might come across as a guy without a girlfriend.
I received a quick response from a female JOTW reader who said,
“If the guy interested in KISSS is cute, honest, decent, respectable and has a fabulous sense of humor not to mention a full head of hair, has baggage but doesn't mind putting it down once in a while, loves life, likes to daydream, etc. please slip him my e-mail address in a completely covert fashion. It was a guy, wasn't it? And he's single, right? You never know these days. Should we call you pimp daddy then?”
I thought she had made some unreasonable requirements. Maybe she has some baggage about baldness? After all, I don’t have even have a “full” head of hair, technically. Okay, she countered, full set of teeth, then. Well, even I don’t meet that requirement.
The JOTW features a quote at the top of every issue. These have become a welcomed feature. Some evoke a response from my readers around the world, like this note from Meryl David, ABC, in Australia, originally from South Africa.
“What a gorgeous quote! (“I pointed out to you the stars and moon, but all you saw was the tip of my finger.” – Sukuma (Tanzania) proverb). Perhaps it's the African in me that causes it to really resonate. Thanks for keeping up with this great tool. Even though I can't use it now – who knows when I may need it.”
Exacly, Meryl. Who knows when you may need a network of fellow communicators to get you re-employed?
I particularly like this quote from Jane Howard, because it sums up the JOTW on-line community:
“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”
Ned Lundquist, ABC, publishes the JOTW newsletter from his home in Springfield, Virginia.